JewFro eatery goes from pop-up to permanent home in Shockoe Bottom

From left, Narine Hovnanian, Trey Owens and Ari Augenbaum with Guy Fieri. Hovnanian, Owens and Augenbaum co-own Soul Taco and are partners in JewFro. (BizSense file)

A pop-up restaurant that merged the cultural backgrounds of two Soul Taco owners has found a permanent home in Shockoe Bottom.

JewFro, which pairs Jewish and African cuisines, plans to open at 1719-1721 E. Franklin St. in the next few weeks. The space was formerly occupied by Julep’s New Southern Cuisine for more than a decade, before Julep’s moved east onto Grace Street.

JewFro was born as a pop-up earlier this year, inspired by the heritage of co-owners Trey Owens, who is black, and Ari Augenbaum, who is Jewish.

Their Soul Taco co-owner Narine Hovnanian, who also is a partner in the new venture, said reception it received during its initial temporary stints motivated them to invest more fully in the idea.

“During the pandemic we were kind of looking for things to do and stay relevant,” Hovnanian said. “Based on all the reaction we got from the public so far, it’s just been overwhelming. It was evident this was something special that had to be around a bit longer.”

Soul Taco will continue on with its two locations in Shockoe Slip and Jackson Ward.

JewFro, a Jewish-African fusion restaurant, will open at 1719-1721 E. Franklin St., the former location of Julep’s New Southern Cuisine. (Jack Jacobs photo)

The group plans to invest $60,000 to $75,000 in the new space, with the intention that JewFro will be more upscale compared to Soul Taco, Hovnanian said. The restaurant plans to be able to seat about 65 people.

Owens said there will be a shift in emphasis from small-plate offerings served by the pop-up in favor of entrees.

“The kitchen kind of dictates what you can do,” Owens said. “During the pop-up we did small plates but small plates require a big kitchen because you’re cranking out a lot of dishes.”

JewFro also plans to introduce morning operations with a breakfast cafe alongside the brunch, lunch and dinner fare that was at the pop-up.

Owens described the concept as a Jewish deli influenced by African cuisines in the daytime and a dinner experience that’s split roughly 50-50 between Jewish and African cuisines.

Pictured is the Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern and North African dish that consists of poached eggs, Niter kibbeh (Ethiopian spiced butter), tomato sauce, olives, and labneh (strained yogurt) served with challah. (BizSense file)

“Our intention is to (be inclusive) and encourage people to explore more flavors than they normally would,” Owens said.

Owens said price points for the restaurant’s menu were still being worked out. The pop-up served sandwiches that ran $12 to $15, and its dinner offerings ranged from $10 to $30.

The restaurant plans to hire 25 to 30 employees. Owens said it’s been tough to find workers, a problem faced by others restaurant operators in recent months.

“It’s still a challenge hiring folks but it’s part of the industry at this point. I think it’s going to take a while for people to be ready to come back to this industry,” Owens said.

After Julep’s departure for 420 E. Grace St., the Shockoe Bottom space was briefly occupied by Shockoe Whiskey and Wine. Smith & Foundry was planning to open there just prior to the pandemic but ultimately did not.

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Jackson Joyner
Jackson Joyner
11 days ago

Pretty cool! I will check it out.